Why I subscribed to NYTimes.com

For years, I’ve been a freeloader. I’ve read the New York Times online (tech and opinion pages especially) and haven’t paid a dime. I was annoyed when the Times adopted a paywall that let me read only ten articles for free each month.

Recently I’ve been thinking about an important decision coming up for an organization to which I belong, and something occurred to me: the dues I pay to the organization do not benefit me so much as they benefit the larger purpose of the organization—making it possible to do its work that I support.

As a legal professional, it pains me when people in my community do not understand basic things about how the legal system works. As a citizen, it pains me when people in the nation do not understand the difference between facts and opinion (see, for example, the alleged debate over climate change).

We attorneys can’t clear up a lay person’s misunderstanding about how the legal system works in two minutes, nor can climate change scientists clear up misunderstandings related to that issue in a short time. Many things in our world today are more complicated than ideas explainable on a bumper sticker.

Good journalism helps explain some of these things. I’m not holding up the Times as the epitome of good journalism—there are plenty of editorial decisions it has made over the years that I disagree with. But, like other major newspapers (Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe) it does good work explaining complicated issues and separating facts from opinion. Our society needs this.

So, I decided that the Times digital subscription is not a matter of what I get out of it. It’s a matter of what my subscription—combined with others—allows the Times to do. Paper newspaper circulations may be dropping, but the work of those journalists is still desperately required. Without it, we cannot understand the issues we must confront or the problems we must solve.

The next time you encounter a paywall, consider whether you might want to pay a little bit of money to make it possible for the work of those behind the paywall to continue.

This principle, of course, also applies to software. The apps we use on our computers can often be easily pirated. We might be annoyed when we see an iOS or Android app that costs money to use. Somehow, we’ve come to believe that free is good (and, indeed, free beer is good) and therefore everything should be free.

As the Gershwins wrote in Porgy and Bess, it ain’t necessarily so.

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Four simple rules to avoid embezzlement

Embezzlement is a risk faced by all businesses. Having seen yet another news story about how a business lost money to a thieving employee, I feel compelled to offer a few pointers (even though it really doesn’t have a lot to do with technology).

Rule No. 1 is TNO: Trust No One. The employee of yours who is most likely to embezzle is the one doing your trusted work: receiving money and paying the bills. Unless this person is your spouse, you cannot assume that he or she is 100% trustworthy. Even your spouse could be stashing money away planning to run off. No matter how much confidence you have in the person handling your business finances, do what Ronald Reagan said: Trust, but verify.

Rule No. 2 is Open Your Own Bank Statements. And do it as soon as they arrive at your office. The number of cases I have seen where the business owner did not review the checking account statements and lost money to embezzlement is astounding. If the embezzling employee knows that you never review the bank statements, she knows she can write checks to herself, her friends, her mortgage company, her dog, any anyone else. Yes, reconciling the bank statement can be a pain, but you have to review the statement (and the check images!) before you let someone else reconcile it. Make sure the person who receives the mail knows that the bank statements are to go directly to you and no one else.

Rule No. 3 is Open Your Own Credit Card Bills. Again, as soon as they arrive. If you aren’t watching the transactions on your credit cards, the employee knows he can charge those airline tickets to Bermuda and not get caught. Your employee and his wife will enjoy their trip that you’ve paid for.

Rule No. 4 is Beware the Employee Who Never Goes on Vacation. Committing financial fraud on your business is a full-time job. If your bookkeeper never takes a day off, never goes on vacation, comes in even when sicker than a dog, be suspicious. The employee very well may be there to make sure that you don’t have a chance to stumble onto something.

There are other rules to follow, but these four are a good start. Ask your CPA about implementing proper controls and systems, and then follow her advice.